Bill Mitsch was conducting research as an environmental engineering science graduate student at the University of Florida in the early 1970s when an epiphany in Naples set him on the path to becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on wetlands.
“I remember going to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to study the cypress sloughs,” he said. “I just said, ‘Wow!’ It was like being in a cathedral. I fell in love with Florida ecology. That’s what turned me into a wetlands scientist, and I’ve been in wetlands ever since.”
Thirty-seven years after earning his doctorate at UF and embarking on a teaching career largely spent at The Ohio State University, Mitsch has returned to Southwest Florida to live, teach, research and head FGCU’s new Everglades Wetland Research Park in Naples. He was appointed in October as the first Juliet C. Sproul Chair for Southwest Florida Habitat Restoration and Management -- a position made possible by an endowment from Sproul, a Naples developer and philanthropist.
“I’m kind of returning to Florida,” said Mitsch, 65. “The wetlands here are a big reason. If you were an oceanographer you would live near the ocean. If you’re a wetland scientist, you should live here. The Florida Everglades are a great resource. A lot of good wetlands science is being done down here.”
Scientists as well as undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students already have begun using the facility for research on Everglades marsh and mangrove forest restoration and carbon mitigation and methane emissions in local ecosystems. As the program develops, teaching, research and outreach opportunities will grow.
The EWRP’s mission and location highlight FGCU’s continuing commitment to sustainability, according to Donna Price Henry, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The Greater Florida Everglades provide priceless ecosystem services for Southwest Florida, serving as the habitat for some of the richest biodiversity on the planet while protecting our coastline water quality and the economic viability of our shoreline and Gulf,” she said. “Most important, our new research program is perfectly attuned to the vision set forth by FGCU when it was established 16 years ago.”
Mitsch joined FGCU after 27 years at Ohio State in Columbus, where he was Distinguished Professor of Environment, Natural Resources and Ecological Engineering. As one of his last activities at OSU, he organized this fall’s International EcoSummit 2012, a conference on sustainability and ecosystem restoration that drew more than 1,500 premier scientists from 75 countries. He presented research at the conference, as did FGCU scientists Michael Savarese, Aswani Volety and Li Zhang.
William J. “Bill” Mitsch
Director, Everglades Wetland Research Park; Juliet C. Sproul Chair for Southwest Florida Habitat Restoration and Management; Editor, Ecological Engineering.
Education: B.S., Engineering, University of Notre Dame; M.E., Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida; Ph.D., Systems Ecology, University of Florida.
Recent posts: Distinguished Professor of Environment and Natural Resources and Director of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
Selected awards: 2010 Einstein Professorship, Chinese Academy of Sciences; 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, Society of Wetland Scientists; 2007 Fulbright Senior Specialist, Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre, Maun, Botswana; 2004 Stockholm Water Prize.